For Nova Scotians, the landscape at Peggy’s Cove is our proudest portfolio, one of our best works. The palette of sparkling granite rocks, dark water and blue sky is undeniably Maritime, a morning spent leaping and bounding over the gigantic glacial boulders, exhilarating. Depending on the season and the weather, Peggy’s Cove can greet the visitor in any one of its many moods: sunny, calm and blue or wild and blustery grey but always beautiful.
Every day of the summer and into the autumn, you can see brightly painted motorcoaches winding their way up the narrow road that leads to the Sou’Wester restaurant’s parking lot, spilling their cargo of cruise ship passengers and day-trippers onto the rocks to take photographs of the lighthouse and experience those incredible fresh seaside sensations that the South Shore wind can bring.
Some will stop into the Sou’Wester to sample a bowl of fresh fish chowder or their famous hot steamed gingerbread cake. Some will pause at the gift shop to buy a souvenir – a Nova Scotia fridge magnet, keyring or t-shirt…almost always lobster-themed. Others will venture back down the narrow road into the village, where there is more to see, more to eat, but not too much more! (Strict bylaws ensure that everything at Peggy’s Cove stays small and tasteful.)
And then it’s time to go.
Although I feel proud that so many visitors come to marvel at the scenery and taste the salt air, when I see those tour buses and minivans turn the corner to head back to Halifax after only two hours at the lighthouse, I feel like standing on the highest boulder and shouting: “WAIT! Come back. Please stay!”
As a local, I know there’s much more to Peggy’s Cove than the lighthouse.
This year, on the shoulder of the tourist season, my 10-year daughter and I decided to spend a night at Peggy’s Cove – only 40 minutes away from our home in Halifax – to experience its charms at our own pace. We booked a cottage at the Oceanstone – a cottage resort that is well-known for weddings, retreats, family vacations, and simple seaside getaways like ours.
Open year-round the Oceanstone offers several low-season specials. Their Hygge Package includes a bottle of Nova Scotia Wine, chocolates and s’mores kit, a candle, two pairs of cosy socks, and a log fire, ready and waiting for your arrival. Nature-lovers can opt for the Storm Watch Package: 4 chilled craft beers, cheese and charcuterie plate for two, and a late check-out.
After a quick journey up the 103 highway from Halifax, Lucy and I stop at Tantallon for some provisions and a few snacks for our cottage kitchen. When I went to school at Tantallon Junior High in the 1980s, there was virtually nothing here – just a small farm market and later, a drugstore. Now there are countless places to eat, shop and get gas, in addition to a few notable boutique stores.
Of these, our favourites places to linger are Otis and Clementine’s, an independent book and coffee shop (with comfy chairs and a Playmobil play table in the back), and Delish Fine Foods – a British-themed deli and cafe which sells deliciously British-tasting hot sausage rolls. A few minutes down Peggy’s Cove Road is White Sails Bakery, another place we love.
With delicious fresh-baked bread and treats, smoked meat sandwiches, soups and savoury pies, the brightly painted White Sails is a local favourite – but only open seasonally, from May to October. We can’t resist a quick coffee and gooey cinnamon bun, which makes us slightly late for our intended check-in, but I remind myself: we’re on a break!
Our next diversion is the Peggy’s Cove Legion, where members of the Peggy’s Cove Festival of Arts are holding an exhibition as part of their Studio Tour, a regular event where small art exhibitions can be found absolutely everywhere along the Peggy’s Cove Road, indicated by placards, signs and flags. At the Legion, we admire some charming local folk art, as well as a collection of stunning nature photographs by Debbie Malaidack.
After buying a few postcards from Debbie, we check into our cottage, The Pines, which is charming, and more than roomy for two. Downstairs, a modern open-plan living area includes a full kitchen, a pull-out sofa bed, a wood stove and a kitchen table. A small bathroom off the kitchen is functional, clean and cute. Upstairs, there are two beds under an open beam roof.
On check-in, Lucy receives a special sheet of paper: a treasure hunt checklist which becomes the highlight of her afternoon. We set off on foot Oceanstone’s private beach – a few seconds from our cottage – to check off one of the tasks on the list: to dip your toe in the ocean.
As soon as we have ticked all the boxes, our next stop is Peggy’s Cove for a quick clamber on the rocks. On the way, we pass the entrance to the Swissair Memorial Site. As former airline crew, I always say a brief prayer for the 229 passengers and crew whose flight from New York to Geneva crashed into the waters at Peggy’s Cove, on September 2nd, 1998. Intentionally, the memorial was set apart from the main tourist attraction – the lighthouse – to allow visiting family members to grieve peacefully. There is a second, larger site on the other side of the cove, near Bayswater beach, a short boat ride, or an hour’s drive away.
On the other side of the lighthouse (heading toward Dover) is Polly’s Cove – a hiking trail that, although it is completely unmarked, is considered one of the most scenic trails in Halifax. Halifax Trails is the best website to plan this and other nearby adventures.
Finally, we reach Peggy’s Cove itself and spend some time clambering and leaping across the rocks, exploring small tide pools and finding the perfect spot for mother-daughter selfies.
It’s important to mention that the ideal spot for a selfie is as far away from the water’s edge as possible. Many tourists have died after being swept into the sea at Peggy’s Cove. There are warning signs everywhere, but no one seems to understand. If you step too close to the edge, it’s the equivalent of standing on the side of a cliff during a hurricane. These waves can kill. And they do. As locals, we know never to step on the black (wet) rocks, and never to turn our backs on a wave.
The fresh air makes us hungry, and we find the solution at Rhubarb, a restaurant that shares the Oceanstone property, steps from our cottage. Having won Best Restaurant on the South Shore in the 2018 Nova Scotia Restaurant Awards, Rhubarb is known for its delicious fish chowder, fabulous brunches (try the lobster eggs benny), and chocolatey desserts. Although the décor murmurs fine-dining (candles are lit), the atmosphere and dress code says casual. On Friday nights there is live music, with special events such as movie nights throughout the year.
Our meal begins with a delicious local white wine for me, locally brewed root beer soda for Lucy, and complimentary warm buttermilk biscuits served with soft butter. The fish chowder is a chunky full-of goodness hit, followed by crispy haddock served with a healthy chickpea salad. Everything is fresh, served confidently by friendly staff.
Stuffed to the gills, we retreat to our cottage. I light the fire, and at Lucy’s request, pull out the sofa bed and cuddle up to watch a movie. At the end of the night, it’s a struggle to pull our sleepy bodies to the comfortable beds upstairs, but once we’re there, we sleep like logs.
Bright and early the next morning, it’s back to Peggy’s Cove for another clamber on the rocks, topped off with a fresh coffee and a piece of steamed gingerbread at the Sou’Wester Restaurant. The gingerbread, along with the fish chowder, has been on the menu for 50 years and is served with a choice of whipped cream, ice cream or lemon sauce. The secret ingredient in the tangy lemon sauce? Diluted lemon meringue pie filling. Shhh….don’t tell anyone!
Our brief mother-daughter getaway left us refreshed, and feeling luckier than ever to live by the sea. It also made me even more adamant in my view that visitors to Nova Scotia should try to stay at Peggy’s Cove for longer than a photo op. To borrow one of our old Tourism Nova Scotia slogans, “there’s so much to sea.”
Helen and Lucy were guests of the Oceanstone Resort